Is Hiring Staff for Bank Branches More Difficult than it Used to Be?

Solidus can design and build modern bank branches in any architectural style.

We at Solidus have come to understand that a successful branch renovation project is not just dependent on designing and building out the branch, and then integrating the branding elements. There are several other pieces to the “successful branch transformation” puzzle that have to be present, and we’ve narrowed it down to a total of six.

Six key pieces ot a successful bank branch transformation

In reality, these segments are not all equal.

These six core components are:

  1. Universal Bankers
  2. Technology
  3. Branch Efficiency
  4. Business Advisory Services
  5. Enhanced Customer/Member Experience
  6. Omnichannel Capability

Based on feedback from our clients, implementation of the universal banker is the single most important aspect of a branch transformation. Many financial institutions are somewhat resistant to implementing this change, partly due to the extensive training required. Others see this shift in their staff roles as the most effective way to expose customers to a broader range of products and services, as well as educate customers in the use of new technology. This approach can be a resounding success, so long as it happens as part of the larger set of core components, and is championed unflaggingly by everyone concerned.

Universal bankers work from dialogue towers in the branch.

The teller pod, or dialogue tower, is the base for a roaming branch “agent”.

Hiring and training the right mix of employees means having to find people of all ages from Millennials to Gen X’ers, who can relate to customers who visit branches, and are looking for help in learning how to use online banking software and banking technology in general. Financial institutions are themselves having to learn what the training program actually consists of for the universal banker role, and then implement it, which isn’t easy.

A transformed bank branch in Massachusetts, showing teller pods and graphic walls.

A new and different experience awaits the customer visiting a transformed branch.

It takes roughly 18 months to train a universal banker, and several years before they’re 100% fluent in the craft. They need to know all about consumer lending, mortgage products, and closing loans. Tellers generally don’t know the details behind these kinds of activities. They also need outstanding customer relationship-oriented closing skills and service skills, sales closing skills, expanding relationship skills, etc. Closing skills are one of the most important and difficult skill-sets to teach. Closing is something that is learned over time, and can take up to five years to perfect. It’s probably easier to train someone with no financial experience, as they won’t come to the position with limited preconceptions about what universal banker role is all about. When one takes all of the above into consideration, it starts to become clear that recruiting and training people for the universal banker position represents a quantum leap in hiring protocols. But you can do it.

A branch of Newtown Savings Bank in Oxford, CT showing its innovative new design.

Transparent office walls, curves, and expanded financial services all under one roof.

Hiring the right personality types to fulfill the sales and service role of the universal banker is of crucial importance. Financial organizations looking to staff their branches with universal bankers (or relationship agents, as they’re sometimes called) have to select people with an innate ability to talk to and build relationships with other human beings. They must also be capable of being trained to understand and clearly explain the products they’re selling, while remaining likable and positive.

When this staffing model is combined with the other five transformational elements mentioned above, including third party in-branch service offerings, the effect can be dramatic; imagine a customer visiting a branch in search of some small business advice being greeted by a universal banker on the retail floor, being asked to briefly explain the type of advice sought, before being directed to a specific area or private office in the branch rented by a company providing solutions for small businesses. Depending on branch size and the number of services available, this starts to look like a “financial mall” experience.

Beverage center in a New England bank designed for enhanced customer experience.

Take a load off, and grab a refreshing beverage; this is a modern branch experience.

Interpersonal communication skills and the ability to learn industry knowledge across a wide variety of products and services are of great importance. Customers’ finances and an organization’s ability to solve problems can increase sales and brand loyalty. This will now be as much the responsibility of each universal banker as it was for the branch manager under the old model.

Financial incentives are key to hiring and retaining the best performers. Compensation increases linked to carefully planned career paths for prospective universal bankers enables organizations to develop a stable of high-performing employees who will become experts in one field in particular, and who can then rise to a senior position within the organization. When any employee is offered this type of opportunity, they instinctively become more engaged in their role and perform to a higher standard.

Verizon store employees are similar to universal bankers in the way they engage customers.

Verizon store staff are trained to engage meaningfully with customers.

Modern banks now resemble Verizon or Apple stores, where the staff—often carrying tablets— approach customers as they enter the space, determine the nature of their branch visit, and either attend to them personally or direct them to the appropriate zone or office in the branch.

Bank branches are also morphing into “stores”, supported by these knowledgeable employees that can explain any product or service the bank provides. Apple and Verizon stores probably bear the closest resemblances to the model community banks and credit unions are seeking. These companies have pioneered the “meet and greet” welcome to their stores, as well as having sterling training programs where sales-oriented communicators are taught to answer customer questions about all their technology and devices. The Apple Genius Bar has attained near-legendary status among retail gurus, and Verizon stores have become virtual tech showrooms, where dozens of mobile devices are displayed along bars throughout the store.

Banks and credit unions are becoming more like Apple stores, with an emphasis on customer engagement.

Stunning: An Apple store in Hong Kong.

Today’s self-service and assisted self-service technologies can automate cash transactions; the lowest value employee activity can be passed on to the equipment and leave the staff available for higher-value sales-focused activities. This extra freedom can result in an emphasis on customer experience and satisfaction, from which (hopefully) follows brand loyalty and deeper wallet share.

Connecticut bank branch with a modern teller pod.

A contemporary branch with a sleek dialogue tower.

The transition to the universal banker (or agent) model will require a revolution in hiring practices in the financial industry, a revolution currently in its infancy. Determining the best sources for recruiting universal bankers is an important step. Comparing personal experience with that of online industry gurus can yield two very different scenarios. Financial organizations must have a concrete idea of what their perfect universal banker will look like, in terms of their behaviors, before hiring. This way, they can be trained to interact with customers in a way that advances the organization’s new voice and philosophy. The great change won’t happen overnight. Financial institutions know they need to create more lucrative and long-term career paths for new hires, supported by the latest technology and branch designs, to transform the traditional teller into a quite different animal.

Modern Connecticut bank branch with teller pods.

An example of a small branch that has it all; pod, drive-thru, technology, beverage center, and staffed by universal bankers.